LINGUIST List 14.2563

Thu Sep 25 2003

Diss: Psycholing: Maye: 'The Acquistion...'

Editor for this issue: Takako Matsui <>


  1. j-maye, The Acquisition of Speech Sound

Message 1: The Acquisition of Speech Sound

Date: Tue, 23 Sep 2003 14:42:46 +0000
From: j-maye <>
Subject: The Acquisition of Speech Sound

Institution: University of Arizona 
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed 
Degree Date: 2000 

Author: Jessica Maye

Dissertation Title: The Acquisition of Speech Sound Categories on the
Basis of Distributional Information

Linguistic Field: 	Psycholinguistics 
			Language Acquisition 
			Cognitive Science

Dissertation Director 1: LouAnn Gerken

Dissertation Abstract: 

In order to account for speech sound patterns in language, linguists
posit the existence of abstract sound categories called phonemes. In
this dissertation I discuss three important aspects of the phoneme
(the contrastive, featural, and allophonic aspects) and develop
hypotheses for how a language learner might acquire each aspect. I
present experimental evidence regarding the acquisition of phonemic
contrasts, and preliminary findings regarding the acquisition of
phonological features.

A review of evidence for the psychological reality of each aspect of
the phoneme demonstrates that phonemic contrasts and phonological
features are instantiated in the mind of language speakers. Phonemic
contrasts affect speech perception, and phonological features play a
role in production, perception, and short term memory. The
psychological reality of allophones, however, has not been
conclusively documented.

Infants acquire the phonemic contrasts of their native language during
their first year. To account for this, I argue for a
distribution-based model, in which phonemic contrasts are learned on
the basis of how frequently a learner hears particular sounds in a
given phonetic context. I support this model through two experiments
in which adult subjects are presented with a language they have never
heard before and are tested on their acquisition of the language's
contrasts. The only information available to the subjects for
determining the language's system of contrasts comes from the
frequency distribution with which the sounds are presented during the
training phase of the experiment. The results demonstrate that
subjects are able to make use of distributional information for
learning phonemic contrasts.

The second experiment also tests whether subjects extract the
phonological features of the contrasts in question. The results
indicate that the subjects did not learn phonological features, but
these results are argued to result from limitations in the stimuli.

The goal of this dissertation is to delineate what is already known
about the psychological reality of the three aspects of the phoneme,
in order to account for their acquisition. The experiments conducted
support a distribution-based model of phonemic contrast acquisition,
and hypotheses are proposed regarding the acquisition of phonological
features and allophones.
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